When I first adopted my cat, the one thing that bewildered me for months was why my cat licks me then bites me. I had never had a cat before and as most of us know, cat behaviour can be pretty hard to read if you don't know what you are looking for. Luckily for me (and for all new cat parents) informative blogs like this one exist.
Knowing how to read your pet’s behaviour is a skill worth developing, as the subtlest of behaviours can tell you a lot about what your cat is feeling or needing. Communication is paramount in any relationship, even when the other can’t actually speak. This is even harder with cats, because their body language is quite subtle most times. As a new cat parent you might be perplexed as to why your cat licks then bites you.
In this article I explain common reasons for this behaviour so you can learn to communicate better with your furry friend.
An Attack or a Way of Communicating?
Cats may bite for different reasons: to assert dominance or respond to a threat, to stop unwanted attention from humans, or even as a way to communicate something more pleasant. This applies to adult cats mostly, since kittens often bite to socialize or as a way of exploring the world around them.
But here we are speaking of a very specific situation: a cat licking and biting you. Most times it is in a non-aggressive manner, which confuses most people because the cat is clearly not angry, but they don’t seem to be quite happy either.
So, why do cats lick then bite?
Affection: The Love Bite
If your cat licks then bites you out of the blue then you might be in the presence of a love bite, lucky you! This is a very common (and usually gentle) interaction with cats, especially kittens. If your cat does this they might be trying to show you affection. Even though it might not feel pleasant (kitty tongues are rough), it is a very normal part of cats’ communication.
The love bite can go both ways - it can be that your cat is showing affection or they can be asking for it. Cats are known to be very independent and do as they please, when they please - Cats call the shots. They are not antisocial, they just like to have attention when they want it. So if your cat licks then bites you, they might just be asking for a little bit of love or attention.
Overstimulation: Your Cat Has Had Enough of Your Pets
As we said above, cats are quite picky with what they want and when they want it. You may be petting your little friend happily one moment, they are purring and everything is right in the world. And the next thing you know, there it is, the lick and bite killer combo. At this point everyone but the cat is confused. Oh, you thought we were having a moment? Not anymore. Now you are confused and the cat is a second away from being upset with you. What went wrong? Your little friend is over your pets for the moment.
What is Cat Overstimulation?
Overstimulation happens when you touch your cat in areas they don’t like or for extended periods of time. After some time, something that they might have found enjoyable turns frustrating and results in a little bite. The overstimulation threshold for cats differs from one cat to another, so there is no set timeframe in which it is (safe) to pet your cat. You should pay attention to their responses to your petting. Do they claw at you when you pet their tummies? Do they lick then bite you after a few minutes of petting even if they were seeming to enjoy it? Be mindful of these things and any sudden changes in behaviour when interacting with your cat.
How to Avoid Overstimulating Your Cat
- Do not pet them in areas they don’t like.
- Stop petting them as soon as you see any signs of discomfort.
- Keep petting sessions short.
- Wait some time before attempting to pet them again. As we said before, cats have their own timing and waiting a bit before petting them again might be in your best interest.
- Do not retaliate if they bite. Yelling or punishing your cat will only make them afraid of you or make them become more aggressive.
Feeling Playful: Your Cat is Telling You That They Want to Play
As mysterious and cool as they seem, cats can still be silly and playful. So, another reason why cats lick then bite could be that they simply want to play. If their ears and whiskers are pointed forward, the tail is up and the pupils are slightly dilated, then your cat is ready for playtime! Other signs might be walking with an arched back or crouching with their rear end up. By licking then biting you, your cat is asking for a little fun.
Grooming: Your Cat may be Grooming You
Cats lick their fur in order to groom themselves. They bite their fur when getting rid of tangles and lick after so that they can be as clean and soft as possible. If your cat licks and bites you repetitively and seemingly with intent, then fear not, your are being groomed. This is a part of normal cat interaction and often happens among siblings and preferred humans. They might not be fond of other people but this is a sure tell that they like you!
Stress: Your Cat May be Stressed or Anxious
If your cat seems to lick or bite things excessively, maybe even displaying aggression, then your furry friend may be stressed or anxious. Cats are easily stressed - new people, new places and new pets could all be a source of anxiety, so it is very important to be attentive of those things. Some breeds like the Siamese are commonly known to chew things when they are stressed. If you find that your cat is acting strangely, consult your vet for possible diagnosis and treatment.
Does The Order of Licking or Biting Matter?
What if we flipped the combo? The alternate question: Why do cats bite then lick? In all honesty I haven’t found a difference in the order and its meaning. Cats lick and bite people as a way of calling their attention to something, be it asking for affection or asking it to stop. The bottom line is that your cat wants to tell you something, and according to the context and their body language it is often one of the things we explained above.
What To Do If the Bite is Aggressive
There are several ways to prevent aggression in cats and they all start with “don't get them riled up”. Avoid trigger situations when possible. If you have lived long enough with a cat you will know what their triggers are. Try not to encourage aggressive play. Things always end up escalating if your cat is prone to aggression. Positive reinforcement is your best friend. If your cat is playing or behaving in a relaxed or calm manner you can reward them with a treat. As we said before, yelling or physical punishment are never the answer. It will always make matters worse and make your cat afraid of you or become more aggressive. There are tons of ways to handle aggressive cats, just make sure you are doing it properly.
Cats are complex creatures and are sometimes hard to read, but for the love they give us it is well worth the effort to learn how to understand them. Interaction can be a tricky thing even among human beings. In the case of pets, we just need to learn the best ways of communication and pay special attention to body language. Cat licking and biting is a normal part of the way cats interact with the world, and is generally not cause for any concern. Whether it is to show affection or to ask for attention or alone time, licking and biting is their way to communicate to us what they want or what they are feeling, so close pay attention.
Does your cat lick then bite you? How do you decipher what they're trying to tell you? Let us know in the comments! We would love to read your experiences.